Can't Help but Help: Should We Praise Good Deeds that Result from Mental Illnesses?



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We hesitate to blame kleptomaniacs for stealing. Should we be similarly hesitant to praise people for doing good deeds if their actions are motivated by similar compulsions? My thesis project considers how to evaluate good deeds that are caused by mental illness. Specifically, I will focus on Scrupulosity OCD. Scrupulosity is a type of obsessive-compulsive disorder in which rather than feeling the urge to do something like wash their hands, the patient has the compulsion to help other people. Mental illnesses like this can cause conflicting intuitions when it comes to assigning praise. For example, if someone donates 30% of their income to charity because they want to help other people, it seems like we should praise them strongly. But if we find out they have Scrupulosity OCD and felt compelled to make donations, we might want to avoid praising their compulsive behavior. My project seeks to resolve these conflicting intuitions. I will start by confirming that it is possible to perform good deeds as a result of mental illness, and I will then carefully dismiss the possibility that such deeds can warrant neither praise nor blame due to mentally ill people having ‘no choice.’ Next, I will explore one influential account of praiseworthiness in which, roughly, a person is praiseworthy if they do the right thing for the right reasons. From this account, we might expect Scrupulous people not to be praiseworthy, but I discovered the opposite result: it follows from this account that a good deed resulting from Scrupulosity OCD is actually more praiseworthy than one that is not compulsive. I do not consider this a desirable result. Accordingly, I propose a way to alter the account to return a more plausible result: compulsive and non-compulsive actions are, in some circumstances, equally praiseworthy. I will finally conclude that when good deeds caused by Scrupulosity OCD are as praiseworthy as non-compulsive good deeds, it is because the person’s good deeds and the compulsions that caused them are an accurate reflection of that person’s real (praiseworthy) values.



Obsessive compulsive disorder, Praise, Moral evaluation, Compulsion, Ethics